Here’s the newest AP Poll after a hectic week up top:
|2||Michigan State (21)||1527||24-3||4|
|15||Saint Mary’s (Cal)||683||24-3||11|
Virginia, Villanova and Purdue’s collective 42-game winning streak flew off the rails last week, as the top three teams in last week’s the poll went 2-4 over the past seven days. Despite that, the Cavaliers are the new No. 1 team; it’s the first time the Hoos have earned the top spot in more than 35 years.
It’s pretty wild that Virginia ascended to No. 1 for the first time in more than three decades the same week it took one of its two losses this season. But the Cavaliers’ resume is absolutely No. 1-worthy. Virginia still has the best defense of the KenPom era and has significant wins over North Carolina, Duke, Clemson, Rhode Island, Louisville and Florida State.
But keep an eye on the offense. The Cavaliers are down to 45th on that end and have especially struggled lately; Virginia is averaging fewer than 60 points in its last three games. The Cavaliers don’t need a top-10 offense to win a national title – that speaks to how elite their defense is — but it needs to be top-20 or so. Kyle Guy should snap out of this shooting funk; he’s too proven of a sniper not to.
Shot-creation was a major question mark heading into the season. The Hoos have shown the ability to generate quality offense, but those concerns have manifested in the past few games.
Michigan State is up to No. 2 in the rankings after an impressive home win over Purdue, yet the Spartans were only a 3-seed in Sunday’s early bracket reveal. Why the difference?
Well, it depends if you’re looking at this subjectively or objectively. Most who regularly watch college basketball would agree that Michigan State is one of the best teams in the nation. Maybe the best. The Cassius Winston-Joshua Langford-Miles Bridges-Jaren Jackson-Nick Ward group has everything you’d want in a starting lineup, and the Spartans are oozing with depth.
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But they certainly don’t have the second-best resume in the country. Michigan State only has two top-35 KenPom wins, and while some of that is out of its control, the resume is the resume. Michigan State’s best remaining opponent is Northwestern (No. 78 in KenPom) so the only chance it will have to earn another signature win will be in the conference tournament.
That’s why the Purdue win was extra important for the Spartans, but they’re still one of the most difficult teams to evaluate. Regardless of ranking or seeding, though, they look like the national title contender we expected them to be.
MORE: Andy Katz’s Power 36
Villanova is down to No. 3 after losing to St. John’s. The Wildcats’ biggest downfall? A lack of depth, so when valuable rotation players like Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are out of the lineup, it stings even more. Before Booth’s injury, Jay Wright trusted six players. Remove a third of those guys, and it makes sense that Villanova slipped up against St. John’s and was in another dogfight with Butler. Paschall should be back soon, but Booth’s status heading into March might be even more important to Villanova’s title hopes than what happens on the court in February. A huge matchup against No. 4 Xavier looms on Saturday.
Duke is down three spots after losing at North Carolina, which may seem harsh. But the teams who jumped the Blue Devils – No. 8 Ohio State, No. 9 Gonzaga and No. 11 Clemson – all deserved to. Chris Holtmann is a wizard, by the way. His Buckeyes were picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten preseason poll; they’re now eighth in the country. The beginning of the Big Ten tournament could be a snooze, but if we get any combination(s) of Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue squaring off, the ending will be a blast.
No. 21 Texas A&M and No. 25 Arizona State rejoined the rankings this week. A quick word on the Aggies – they’re still probably the most talented team in the SEC, even if they haven’t been as consistent as Auburn or Tennessee. The Tyler Davis-Robert Williams-D.J. Hogg frontcourt remains scary and versatile; A&M has been fantastic when all three guys are in the lineup. After a mid-season lull, the Aggies are finding their footing at an ideal time.
Selection Sunday is less than four weeks away, and the race to the Final Four feels wide open. Embrace the madness.